Showing posts with label game. Show all posts
Showing posts with label game. Show all posts

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lean Bucket Brigade Game

Three operators, five stations. At first glance the video below looked like a simple lean assembly line simulation. But after watching the video for a few seconds, I noticed something very interesting. Different operators were working at the same station depending on how far along the next operator was in the operation.

The video makers call this phenomenon a bucket brigade!

What exactly is a bucket brigade?

A bucket brigade is essentially a human chain used to transport something. The origins of this chain lie in fire fighting. Before pumps and fire hydrants, fires were put out with water from a bucket. Since you need more than one bucket of water to put out a large fire, buckets of water were handed from the person to person along a chain from the water source to the fire. Everyone worked together to get these buckets to the fire and to get the empty buckets back to the pond to be filled up.

You still see examples of this today, whenever workers are handling heavy objects. Volunteers putting up sandbag walls to protect against flooding often use this bucket brigade method to pass sandbags from the truck to the wall. Even roof installers use a bucket brigade to unload heavy shingles from a truck or skid.

So how does a bucket brigade work in production?

As you can see from the simple video below, when the last operator finishes an order or part, he walks to the next operator up the line and takes over. After the hand-off, this next operator does the same thing, going up the line to meet the first operator. The first operator then goes back to the beginning and starts a new order.

Simple, yet why would you use a bucket brigade?

This method is useful when you have unbalanced workflow. If one operator takes longer, the next one can pick up the slack, maintaining a constant pace. You don't have to worry about exhaustive time and motion studies. A bucket brigade naturally balances itself.

A bucket brigade is a flexible workcell. Without too much up front analysis effort, different numbers of operators can run the process. If the takt time is lower due to a drop in customer demand, the labour can be fluctuated to match.

Some consider when choosing a bucket brigade method of production. The workers must be aligned from slowest to fastest with the slowest at the front. This ensures that they do not catch up with each other and get blocked. Also, there must be enough work between the operators to ensure a clean hand-off.

Has anyone else used a bucket brigade method in their processes? Is there an efficiency loss with extra walking and hand off fumbling?

Bucket Brigade Video:

I've added this video to my list of free lean training videos, although it would also fit in well with my list of lean simulations, so I've added it there as well!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Six Sigma Training Game - Gummy Bear DOE

Ready for a cool six sigma training game? I present to you the Gummy Bear Design of Experiments otherwise known as Bears in Space. 

I came across this fun statistical adventure while reading the exciting Minitab blog. Believe me, it is exciting! Where else can you learn how to use a 2-sample Poisson rate test to escape a horde of zombies?!!

Cody Steele at the Minitab blog has been using his excellent statistical software to analyse data gathered during this design of experiments using gummy bears hurled by catapults. Who says six sigma is boring!

I've worked with catapults before during my six sigma training, but the game I used was a fabricated kit game that you can purchase for hundred of dollars. The beauty of catapults is that there are multiple variables you can adjust to get your final results. Perfect for a DOE.

In the Bears in Space six sigma training game, the catapult is made from two popsicle sticks and two elastic bands (or rubber bands, if you prefer). An elastic is wound firmly around the end of one of the sticks. The other popsicle stick is placed on top of the first and the second elastic wraps the two sticks tightly together at the other end. A small dowel or pen is slid in between the two sticks to create a fulcrum. If attached properly, you should have a spring loaded catapult. After gingerly placing a gummy bear on the end of the popsicle stick, you can bend down the stick and let it go, sending the gummy bear soaring through the air.

The goal is to measure the distance that your gummy bear travels, the "Y" output, and determine which "X" or inputs contribute the most.

In addition to all the variability created by joining two sticks together with an elastic band, the catapult itself is placed on an incline. The position on the incline can be measured and adjusted.

One of the inputs to be evaluated is the colour of the the gummy bears. Do green ones fly further than red ones? At the beginning the red and green bears are to be launched in groups. As the participants improve their skill with the catapult, the colour launched last tends to travel further. Naturally a discussion about the importance of randomization ensues.

More details can be found on the Bears in Space .pdf. , including identifying sources of variation, blocking, adjusting the fulcrum and the launch angle and, of course, analyzing all the data.

This appears to be a fun lean six sigma training game with plenty of opportunity to generate lots of data. And the gummy bears are a nice touch. Just don't eat them after shooting them all over your dirty shop floor!

Do you have any experience learning how to do a DOE with a simulation or game? Please share in the comments below. 

I've added this game to my list of free lean games and simulations.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Kanban Game at the Lego Pub

Here's a neat little kanban game with lego pieces and cups. It's simple, but effective. I haven't been able to find any rules or information online apart from this video, but after watching it a few times, you could easily run this yourself.

There are four stations, with four operators. This video shows an expert crew, following the rules of kanban. ie. Pull production. Obviously, they've played before. When you first run the game, you should be running in batch mode, making tons of inventory, with no regard to whether anyone needs it.

  1. First station - Put blue lego block in cup and pass to next station. 
  2. Second station - Put green lego block in cup, install lid and pass to next station. 
  3. Third station - Colour sticker with marker, peel off and stick to bottom of cup. Pass to next station. 
  4. Last station - Inspect and pass to customer. 
Simple. I'm not sure what the customer is going to do with these shot glasses of lego, but we can assume they are making what the customer wants. Perhaps they're making drinks at a beach resort for lego minifigs? 

Take a look at the video, then scroll down for my commentary. 

(Unfortunately, the video has been deleted because it's no longer on YouTube. I'll leave the content here, so we don't lose some of the analysis and commentary). 

I did some basic analysis of the game and determined approximate times for each station:
4 Stations - Unbalanced Work

It's clear from the time study that this is not a perfect process. You could easily combined work to make it more efficient. But we won't, at least not when running the first phase of this game. 

Unbalanced flow is the key to creating a good lean simulation. To demonstrate the power of pull production, you need a bottle neck process, like the labeling station above. During the first run, tell your people to go as fast as possible; that they'll be individually rewarded for maximum production. Spread them far apart and use people to be "forklifts" between stations. 

Invariably tons of work in process will build up between station 2 and 3. You will even get material between station 1 and 2. 

Teach the kanban rules and run the simulation again. You can see from the video that the operators only build when the station ahead of them takes a part. One piece of WIP between stations and there's no more build-up and no waste of inventory. The overall lead time decreases and the unbalanced work becomes visible. Time to fix the problems and combine stations. 

This is a great little simulation, perfect for demonstrating pull systems. 

Has anyone used this game for teaching kanban? How about different variations? Different colours of lego? 

I've added this game to my list of lean games and simulations.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lean Dice Game - Try not to roll them!

A lean game using dice? Haven't we seen this before? Maybe, but this ones a little different and a little simpler. In fact, it has more in common with the Penny Game than the other dice games I've posted about.

Clear dice are best for this dice game. More confusing!

I found this lean game on the LitheSpeed blog. LitheSpeed is a consulting company that offers Agile training to software development companies. And so, for obvious reasons this lean game is geared toward the software industry, using terminology like stories and scrum.

I like to keep things more general, though. Whether you're in software development or lean manufacturing, these types of training games teach lean fundamentals, applicable to any industry. Concepts like single piece flow, kanban, pull systems and waste elimination are core ideas that transcend specific processes. This game is no different, introducing these key principles in a simple fashion.

Most Lean Dice Games fall into the six sigma variety. Rolling dice at each station introduces variability, teaching the importance of stable processes and how to measure variation properly. An important exercise, to be sure, but this dice game is a little different. No dice rolling in this game, just dice turning.

That's right. A dice game where you don't roll the dice! 

The dice are merely there to show the process state. At one process, the operator must turn all the dice so the two is showing. At the next one, the operator must turn it so the three is at the top. And so one. Just like the Penny Game, the main process activity is turning the dice around.

Here's the description from the Litheblog.

  • Analysis would be performed by turning a die and placing it on the table such that the number 1 is facing up.
  • Design would be performed by turning a die and placing it on the table such that the number 2 is facing up.
  • Development would be performed by turning a die and placing it on the table such that the number 3 is facing up.
  • And so on, ending with the Product Owner, who turns the dice one more time to accept them.

A very simple lean game. Naturally, you're not learning much if you don't go through some different variations. This game is perfect for showing the benefit of small batches. In one iteration, each person must flip all the dice before passing them along to the next person, illustrating large batch production. The next time you run it, you can pass each die after it has been flipped. . .single piece flow.

Get someone with a stopwatch to time how long it takes for one die to get through the whole system and compare the different iterations.

If one person is struggling and a bottleneck forms, it's time to introduce kanban by limiting the work in process. If you can think of some way to create a bottleneck, even better. That's where the clear dice help out, since it can be harder to see the dots.

The blog has a bit more detailed information including how to score and some debriefing points. Head over to the LitheSpeed blog for all the details.

If anyone has tried this game, or one similar, let us know. Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

For more lean games, check out my massive list of free lean games and simulations.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Value Stream Mapping Simulation

Not so long ago I came across this discussion on linkedin about a value stream mapping simulation. The author of the thread, Silviu Trebuian, had developed two such VSM simulations and was offering them to the group for free. Naturally, I took him up on his offer. . . along with 500 other people!

Silviu's value stream mapping simulation is a computer-based activity. Similar to the Lean Bicycle Factory, this one shows a graphical representation of a manufacturing facility. There are several departments: cutting, milling, and lathe.

Note: This simulation is no longer available at the links given...Good things never last.

Crisp graphics show the operators moving at each station

Each process has a defined cycle time, but they're not all the same! And since the work cells are interlinked,  inventory builds up in between each one. The screen shot above doesn't really do it justice. Once you see it running for yourself, you will love the slick movement of each little machine. You can watch the simulation run for days. Inventory builds up and and is graphically represented by a little bar before and after each station.

The beautiful thing about this simulation is that everything is adjustable!

All process parameters can be changed.
You can change the cycle time, the changeover time, up time percentage, how many shifts run and the total available time, for each station. This is where the simulation shines and you can lose yourself in it for hours. By making the first stations go fast and the last one go slow, you get a ton of inventory in the middle. Or you can make the last station go fast and be waiting for parts. You can add customer orders or take them away. You can speed it up or slow it down. You could even watch it in real-time. There goes a week, just like that!

So what use is this simulation, other than to mesmerize yourself?

This value stream mapping simulation is perfect for value stream mapping training. By putting it up on a big screen, you can show the different stations, how the process flows, and where inventory builds up. You can enter parameters based on your group's discussion.

Not only does it show the process time vs wait time on the bottom of the simulation...

. . . it also gives you a full-fledged Value Stream Map to go along with the simulation.

Here's where you can use it for training. All the critical information is outlined for each process in the value stream map. You can flip back and forth between the simulation and the VSM to see each process running. If you are unfamiliar with value stream mapping, check out this value stream mapping video and my post full of value stream map examples.

Now be forewarned. There's a lot going on in this simulation and it's hard to follow the flow at first. Inventory is tracked with those green bars, but disappears from one station to reappear at the next. But since they are not in logical order (what current state is?!), it can be a challenge to understand how the product is flowing.

Since this is a value stream map simulation, one could just follow the value stream map. So, after watching the simulation for an hour, trying to wrap my head around the flow, I decided to refer to the value stream map, which clarified the process flow. Still, I was having trouble seeing it, particularly where the inventory was stored between cells and in the supermarkets. A little confusing, like most production plants!

After watching this for awhile, I made this little diagram to help me out, since inventory appears and disappears pretty fast. Note that material handlers are moving batches of 20 at a time. If you decide to work with this simulation, I hope this little diagram will help.

Look at this messy flow!

Where can you get your hands on this simulation? 

You could do what I did and post in the linkedin thread. Silviu will send you a zipped file with everything you need to run this simulation on your own computer.

Or you can venture over to, where you can find a web-based version of the simulation. To be honest, I am a little wary about installing software on my machine, so I only tried the web-based version. It was more than sufficient and ran without any lagging. If want to run it without being tied to the Internet, you might want to install the software.

If you decide to give this a spin, please come back and tell me what you think. Is it useful for training or a little too cumbersome? What do you think?

I've added this Value Stream Mapping Simulation to my monster list of free lean games and simulations.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

5S Red Tag Process - The 5S Numbers Game Revisited

After all the holiday shopping and red tag sales, I figured I'd start the new year with some red tagging of my own. I'm not planning to get rid of some old posts, but update a classic lean game with a new variant. I wrote about the 5S Numbers Game way back in April of 2010, and it could use a little refreshing.

The 5S Numbers Game is a simple pen and paper lean game that can be used while teaching the 5 S's:  Sort, Set-in-Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. With a little effort, you could easily make your own version.

Every person is given a booklet. As each "S" is taught, the class flips to the appropriate exercise, where a group of numbers need to be found and crossed off. While progressing through the 5S process, the numbers become easier to find, since they are sorted, ordered, organized, and standardized.

There are a number of versions floating around out there on the Internet, but recently I came across this one which incorporates the 5S red tag process. How do you red tag a number on a piece of paper? By slapping a red tag sticker on the numbers that aren't needed! Maybe it's a little much for a simple 5S exercise, but there's a few other tweaks that differentiate this game from the original 5S Numbers Game I posted about, including colour coding for visual control!

Now, I understand that doing is the best way to learn. And 5S is one of the easiest lean techniques to learn about while doing. Naturally, we all want to get our teams out there to organize and standardize, but as an introduction to 5S, the 5S Numbers Game is a simple activity that everyone will enjoy. I've used it successfully during kaizen events. A little competition always excites the group.

Here's the latest game with the 5S red tag process, embedded for everyone to see.

Post a comment if you've used the 5S Numbers Game in your training sessions and tell us about it!
5S Numbers Variant

I've added this game to my massive list of Lean games and simulations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kanban Pizza Game - Lean, Meet Your Nemesis, the Bake Oven!

There's a new lean Pizza game out there called the Kanban Pizza game. Created by the people at, this kanban game bears more of a resemblance to Mr. Happy Face, then the VSM Pizza game. Instead of making paper heads, your team assembles pizza slices.

I have to admit that any game with Hawaiian pizza as a product choice is okay in my book!

Although developed from an IT background, the purpose of the Kanban Pizza Game goes beyond the software industry:
With the Kanban Pizza Game from agile42 you can find out how Kanban feels like. While common Kanban games are usually focussing only on the flow in an existing Kanban system, our new Kanban Pizza Game shows in addition how to get from an existing process to a Kanban system.
Like many lean training games, the Kanban Pizza game uses a phased approach. Start with an existing process, make pizza slices as fast as you can. Then introduce work-in-process limits and see how the process improves.

What I like about this game is that they've incorporated a wait time into one of the processes, the pizza oven! Many times we have to wait for something in our processes, whether it's a curing oven in manufacturing or a decision to be made in a service environment. It's hard to naturally fit this type of feature into a paper simulation, but the pizza oven is a good match.

The game documentation gives a decent overview of the process and how to run the Pizza Game, but lacks a detailed step by step instruction set. I'm sure you can easily divide up the work (cutting, gluing, colouring, baking) among the people in your training session, depending on the size of your group. The process steps don't matter so much in these games, as long as you can create a bottle neck somewhere, so the work builds up.

It would be nice to know how the pizza oven was physically represented. I've left a comment on their blog to see if they will divulge this information.

You can see a few pictures of the Kanban Pizza game in action on Flickr! And I think the oven is a just a letter-sized piece of paper.

Overall, I think this a great exercise to demonstrate the benefits of Pull systems vs batch production. Whether you're working in an IT environment or a manufacturing plant, these types of games are universal.

And afterwards you can order real pizza for the group!

Check out all the details for the Kanban Pizza game on, including a downloadable .pdf file.

I've found a little video of some people messing around with this game (or something very similar):

Update: There's even more descriptions, slides and pictures in my new post on the kanban pizza game. 

I've added this game to my collection of Lean training games.

Don't forget to drop in and say hello on my Introduce Yourself page!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Single Piece Flow vs Batch Production - Stuffing Envelopes

When you have only one person in a work cell, what are the benefits of single piece flow? What's the difference between running in batch mode, or running one piece at a time? There's no inventory to build up between operations, so is there a benefit?

The video below shows a simple operation, stuffing envelopes, done with one person. You can compare the single piece flow version with the batch version, since they are being produced side by side.

Although there are four people in the video, they're working independently, so there's really only two processes to compare. On the right, the participants are stuffing envelopes one at a time, finishing each one completely before starting the next envelope.

The people on the left are batching the envelopes. First folding all the papers, then putting them in the envelopes, and then sealing them all.

You can immediately see the difference, with the "one at a time" process producing finished envelopes earlier. There's a huge benefit to the customer, since the lead time to delivery is significantly faster.

This is a simple exercise to perform in a training session using items commonly found in any office.

Unfortunately, this video has disappeared from youtube...

You can see more envelope stuffing games here.

Don't forget to tell everyone about yourself on my introduction page!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lean Dot Game - Stick it to the Man!

Do you want to run a lean training simulation, but don't have the budget for a complicated Lego set? Need a game that uses stuff you probably have lying around the office? The Dot Game is a great little simulation that's less complicated than Mr. Happy Face and a lot lighter than the Penny Game.

What is the Lean Dot Game?

The Dot Game is a variation of the Lean Cups Game, but simpler, using sticky notes and different coloured dots. The dots are just circular stickers that you can pick up at any office supply type of store.

The game runs in 3 rounds or 20 minutes each, depending on how much time you want to spend on discussion. At this length, it's easy to mix it into an all day training session while teaching core lean tools like value stream mapping, 5S and 8 wastes.

Or you could run the 3 rounds back to back and squeeze it into a hour-long presentation.

The Dot Game is ideal for teaching the basics of lean production, since it simulates a process that everyone understands. There's multiple steps, multiple processes, potential for quality problems, a bottleneck, unbalanced flow and significant overproduction.

How does the Dot Game Work?

Your group of highly trained experts get to master the skills of sticking sticky dots to sticky notes. That's right, those executives who make six figure salaries, will be seated around a table doing arts and crafts. Don't worry. It's worth it when you can get them to understand the basics of lean.

Each sticky note has to have six dots applied to it in a very specific pattern as shown:

Make those blue dots touch, but not overlap!

There are eight roles in the game. It's designed for software developers as written, so the job titles refer to different developers within a software design process. Really, the names don't matter. You're just putting dots on post-it notes.

Here's the steps:

1. Business Analyst - Picks 6 post-its
2. Technical Analyst - Puts on yellow dot
3. Designer - Puts on red dot
4. UI Developer - Puts on green dot
5. Developer - puts on both blue dots
6. Tester -  discards anything of poor quality
7. Project Manager - uses stopwatch
8. Customer - receives the finished product

That's it!

Run the game in three rounds. Like most lean games, the first round is a free for all, with lots of positive encouragement (shouting!) to ensure each person moves as fast as possible and makes lots of WIP.

The second round, you get closer to single piece flow, implement work in process limits and minimize the inventory.

The third round you can look at smoothing production and optimizing the work cell.

Where can I get the Dot Game?

What do you mean, where can I get the Dot Game? Look in your supply cabinet at work, or head on over to Staples. You need post-its and stickers.

But what if I want even more?

Maybe you want some improved directions, and instructions for the participants? Then head on over to There, you will find a Dot Game .pdf file with all the instructions you need, as well as work instructions. If you can't find the Dot Game with the link above, then enter "dot game" in the search field at the upper right of the page.

Be advised that registration is required for net objectives, but they haven't sent me any spam. So if you don't mind the occasional email about training events, you can get your hands on this .pdf file.

Or you can check out this other version of the dot game, which is a bit of a lower resolution version (it's a fax), but ultimately accomplishes the same thing. In fact, the rounds are explained in a bit more detail.

I've added this game to my huge list of lean games and simulations.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Scrum Ball Point Game - Tennis, anyone?

You know when you're having trouble keeping all your balls in the air? There's a game for that..

The scrum ball point game is a very popular lean game in scrum/agile programming circles, and it has nothing to do with pens.

The rules are simple. Like most lean games, it depends on breaking people's preconceptions.

The goal of the scrum ball point game is to pass as many balls as possible through your entire team in two minutes. Actually, the goal is to introduce scrum, facilitate teamwork, adaptation and continuous improvement.

Scrum is a development method commonly used in software creation. It depends on a check and adjust cycle, an iterative process of the PDCA method Teams inspect their work and adjust accordingly. The concept of self-adjusting teams is what's introduced in the scrum ball point game.

The rules:

1. You are one big team.
2. Balls must have air time.
3. No ball to your direct neighbour.
4. Start point = end point
5. Play 5 iterations of 2 minutes, with 1 minute inbetween.

That's it.

Boris Glogner, the creator of the scrum ball point game, maintains a blog with more information, or you can check out this direct link to the .pdf

Often times, people will start off in a two lines and will adapt with each iteration and end up moving closer, which improves each team's flow. Just like other lean games, it's important to have some sort of debriefing afterwards to explain to everyone the relevance or the game.

Here's a video of a massive group playing the scrum ball point game. You can see the progression through the 5 iterations and improvement with each step.


The scrum ball point game is not just for programmers! Its an excellent game to illustrate Lean concepts. PDCA and improving continuous flow and crucial to the success of the game.

 What about you? Have you played the scrum ball point game? How did it work for you?

 I've added this game to my humongous list of Lean games and simulations. 

Karl has posted a link to his version of the Ball Point game with details for how to progress through each round. He's also created an excel spreadsheet to track data and calculate control limits. Check out his version!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Porsche JIT Game - The Beer Game or the Lean Box Game?

There's a lean box game out there on the internet, but when you do a search it's very difficult to find any information on it. I've played a variation of this lean game before at a Bosch Rexroth lean demonstration and it shows the difference between batch and flow production very well.

The game was originally described in Jame's Womack's book Lean Thinking as the Porsche JIT game. According to the book, the game was used at Porsche prior up to the writing of the book, circa 1991. So it's been around for quite a bit.

The website, "The Blog from a Lean Thinker," has a pretty good description of how the game works, although the author refers to it as the beer game. The box game probably owes it's heritage to the MIT Beer Game, but the Porsche version is much simpler and easier to manage.

The Lean Box, as described in Lean Thinking:

  1. Operator 1 delivers batches of unfolded large and small boxes in 3 colours to two stations. 
  2. Operator 2 assembles the large box and puts an elastic band around it. 
  3. Operator 3 assembles the small box and puts an elastic band around it. 
  4. Operator 4 opens the large box, puts the small box inside, puts a piece of paper on top of the small box and closes the large box again, with elastic around it. 
  5. Operator 5 opens the large box and checks to make sure the small box and ticket are inside. 
As you can imagine, the fourth operation takes the longest and creates a huge bottleneck in the process. 

The best part of this game is the redundancy of opening that large box multiple times. It's easy to see the inefficiencies when looking at this simulation. And it's easy to figure out how to fix it and create some flow. 

But rather than fixing the obvious (not opening the box so many times, or rebalancing the work), the book suggests reducing lot sizes and only making when the next operation asks for it. Soon, with batches of 5, than 3, a good flow is achieved and the customer is able to randomly vary his order and still get the correct boxes. 

By not rebalancing, the game achieves the goal of showing how to manage inventory at the slowest process. 

The Lean box game or Porsche JIT game, is a simple lean game that shows the difference between push and pull production, with cheap materials. Everyone has boxes lying around their facility. 

Learn more about it in the book, Lean Thinking, where it's described on page 208, or you can just try it yourself. The rules are pretty simple. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kaizen Workshop - A sneak peak inside

In a kaizen workshop, you spend two to five days focusing on one particular process. The workshop generally involves training as well as the actually workplace kaizen improvements. In the video below, you will see one method of running a kaizen event or workshop.

I enjoy looking at videos like this because it shows the different styles of the instructors and how they interact with the participants. In this particular workshop the teams each came up with a name and a funny team chant.

As well, they do some dancing as a group, and if you look closely they appear to be following some video instructions. Probably a good way to introduce standardized work!

During this kaizen workshop you get to see examples of error proofing or "poka-yoke." The teams also create some 5S shadow boards while they demonstrate how the parts will be kitted.

A lean game or simulation is played by ripping pieces of paper and passing them along a line. I'd be interested in seeing some instructions for that game if anyone's tried it. I also saw a bunch of paper plates at one point. Maybe another lean game or perhaps just lunch preparations?

It's always nice to see other people's kaizen workshops and activities, just to benchmark and learn from each other. This video is about 6 minutes and gives a decent summary of what it's like to be part of a kaizen event. And they claim a 50% cycle time reduction!

Unfortunately, the video is no longer available, so I've removed it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Line Balancing - A lean game with Lego airplanes

After watching a Boeing 737 being built on a moving assembly line, I thought how hard it would be to balance an assembly line with so many different job elements. Inspired to look for a lean training game building airplanes, I found this interesting lean line balancing simulation.

In this lean game, the team first analyses all the job elements and balances the line using a lean approach. After the line balancing, the team can run the game using standard push production methods, then change to a Lean pull system.

The interesting part is that the teams design their own process first, presumably using standard work methods, then test their lean line balancing skills by running their own manufacturing cell they just designed.

You create it, then prove it out.

Can you balance this Lego plane?

Balancing Planes Game:

  1. Given the individual steps required to build the plane, the team designs the manufacturing method, balancing the line to enable production of 12 planes in 5 minutes. Groups must time each element and determine where it fits best in sequence. 
  2. Teams run their manufacturing process as designed. 
  3. The group reviews the output and discusses problems, including timing and order of operations. 
  4. Teams regroup and balance the line again, including discussed improvements. 
  5. The improved simulation is run.
What I like about this game is that there are plenty of opportunities to discuss different lean concepts. You need to introduce the concept of takt time to balance the line properly. It's a perfect way to introduce 5S with all those Lego blocks lying around. And of course, Standard Work is instrumental in line balancing. 

I would incorporate a batch vs pull iteration of the manufacturing line. Have one simulation go as fast as possible, then try to limit WIP and see how smooth it goes. 

There are a few details missing from this game, most importantly the exact steps to build the airplane. But using the picture and the names of the steps, it wouldn't be too hard to put it together yourself. 

Direct link to game:

I've added the Balancing Planes game to my gigantic list of lean games and simulations.

More games on the site, including another version of the Cups Game.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Lean Cups Game - What's summer without a few cold ones?

The Lean Cups Game is a another simple lean exercise that demonstrates the difference between push and pull production. Teams assemble paper cups and lids into a tray, inserting straws into each cup. The cups are empty, although it would be interesting to run the game with some cold beverages!

The Lean Cups Game assembly. A tray of four.

The Lean Cups Game seems like a pretty cost effective way to complement your lean training, especially if you have access to a fast food joint where you can get all the equipment for free!

How does the Lean Cups Game work?

  1. The first operator puts four cups in a tray.
  2. The next operator places red dots on the cups.
  3. The third operator puts lids on the four cups.
  4. The last operator removes straws from wrappers and puts them in the cups. 
If performed as designed, the last operation should take the longest, producing plenty of inventory upstream. 

Like all good Lean games, the Cups Game has two phases, a push and a pull phase. In the push scenario, the operators are told to work continuously, trying to get as many parts as possible out of each station. Inventory builds up and the flow stalls. You can track the speed of the flow by marking a tray and timing how long it gets through the four stations.

After discussing the horrors of inventory, the team sets up a pull system with only enough space at each station for 4 units. Only when the WIP area is empty, is the previous station allowed to produce again. 

More details on how to run the Lean Cups Game are available in this paper.

Electronic Version

In the above paper, there are links to a computer version of the game, which requires four computers beside each other. Be advised that I haven't tested this, since I'm not the biggest fan of installing random .exe files on my computer. But if you have a greater risk tolerance than me and feel like running the simulation without the physical cups and trays, let me know how it works out. 

The Lean Cups Game is a simple game to illustrate push vs pull. If you can get your hands on the materials, this one looks pretty easy to put together. 

Update: Unfortunately the game information is no longer available, so I've removed the links.

I've added this game to my continuously growing list of lean games and simulations.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Whole Slew of Dice Games

This Goldratt-inspired dice game demonstrates the theory of constraints and interdependency. The WSU website created by James Holt gives very clear instructions on how to run your own dice game, including all the details for each iteration and what the expected results should be.

Last year I posted about MIT's version of this game, called the Variability Simulation. This dice game is a version of the same game, but includes several more in depth variations.

It's not just one dice game. By switching a few things, tweaking this or that, different processes can be emulated.

The Basic Dice Game:
  • Push System
  • 1 Die per operator
  • Each operator rolls their die and moves the equivalent number of tokens to the next station.
What happens? 

On average, everyone moves the same number of tokens. It's a statistical certainty. Ha. Just make sure you roll a million times! But the variations in dice rolling cause a ton of inefficiencies in the process.

When a worker rolls low, he can't move all his tokens and builds up a stock of inventory, becoming a bottleneck. Alternately, when a worker rolls high, he might not have tokens to move and wastes this high roll.

What do you learn?

Interdependency. It doesn't matter if one worker is very efficient, because the previous process may be starving him of parts. The dice game shows how each process is linked and dependent on the processes before and after it. The improvement focus should be on the entire value stream, not just working with each individual process.

Best quote from the rules:

"While cheating is fun, it lessens the learning for this first time. They can cheat later."

Variations on the basic dice game:

The website describes no less than 5 different versions of the dice game, that progressively become more complicated and illustrate different methods.

  1. Push game variation with preloaded inventory.
  2. Pull or kanban version where workers roll from the final process back to the first. 
  3. Theory of Constraints version where the first station is pull and the rest are push.
  4. Assembly model where multiple workers feed a single station, instead of one linear flow.
  5. And finally a complex assembly or routing model, where infinite possibilities exist to model your own process with multiple workers dependent on each other. Good luck!

Has anyone tried running the Dice Game or some version of it? What was your experience?

Link to the detailed instructions for running your own dice game is here:

I've added this page to my huge list of free Lean games.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kanban Game - Roll Snake Eyes to Win

A kanban game where rolling ones wins? Sign me up and take me to the casino.

This kanban game is designed to illustrate kanban as it is used for software development. Posted by jon jagger on, it's similar to the other kanban game I reviewed earlier, but appears to have some simplified rules and a few more complicated features.

Now that I'm examining more of these software kanban games, I'm really starting to appreciate the value of kanban in product development. I like how the WIP limits determine where the work needs to be focused and prevents getting too far before the rest is finished. The WIP limits in the kanban game, just as in real kanban, prevent work from being pushed to the next step and encourages the team to focus on the bottleneck before progressing.

I'd be interested in seeing how this works in practice, especially if there are dependencies in the operations, or time constraints and deadlines. I'm more familiar with the gantt chart method of product development, where work steps have a predetermined time and the timeline has to be continually adjusted when things don't go as planned (like an MRP system!).

The Kanban 1's Game

  1. Story cards with a predetermined value pass from station to station.
  2. At each station, six dice are rolled and any 1's that come up contribute one unit of work to the story card.
  3. When enough 1's are rolled to fulfill the total work value of the card, the card moves to the next station.
  4. Repeat until the card gets to the end. 

Kanban Game Extra Features
  1. Dice can be passed from one station to another, if equal number of dice are discarded from a given station.
  2. Dice are rolled at the end of each round, to determine if "bugs" destroy the work created. 
  3. 1's can be used to split cards and to create another backlog item.

My thoughts

While I appreciate the summing of the dice to achieve the work value in Christina's kanban game, there's something to be said about the simplicity of just using 1's as work units in the kanban 1's game. I definitely like how the additional features in the kanban 1's game add some meaningful decision making to the game. It's not just dice rolling to demonstrate variation in workflow. Do you use a 1 to split a card or start a new card in the backlog? 

The instructional slides are clear and I like the "animated" directions. There's more discussion about this game and it's development on the creator's blog.

Jon Jagger's Kanban 1s Game

Jon Jagger's Kanban 1s ... by jon5083

I've added this game to my list of Lean games and simulations.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lean Lego Simulation - It's back!

Last year I posted about a Lean Lego simulation at the Aberdeen Lean forums. Sadly, the website closed up shop shortly after and the information disappeared into the ether.

But all was not lost!

I was recently contacted by the game creator, Michael Thelen, who sent me two files to re-post for him. I've posted the game instructions and accompanying presentation in all their glory on

You can view the files below.
Michael Thelen can be found on twitter and linkedin, if you have any questions about this Lego simulation.

LEGO Simulation Overview

LEGO Simulation Overview by leansimulation8106

LEGO Simulation Instructions

LEGO Simulation Instructions by leansimulation8106

Direct links to the files on scribd:
Lean Lego Simulation Instructions
Lego Simulation Overview

Many more Lean games are on my list!

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Storytime! Software Development Kanban Game

Multitasking can be a hindrance to productivity. Especially when you're trying to get something done fast. In software development, Kanban limits how much Work in Process you can have. By imposing WIP limits in each process, lead time through the system is dramatically reduced.

This focused approach makes sense intuitively, but how does it work?

I'm a manufacturing guy and I understand how kanban can reduce inventory by imposing WIP limits on the shop floor. Don't make what the customer hasn't ordered. Push don't pull. Use small batches. Single-piece flow. How do these rules transfer to creating software? I've seen the whiteboards and post-it notes used in software development, but I've never fully understood how it flows.

The simple kanban simulation game cleverly named ChristinasKanbanGame revealed everything to me. After a thorough perusal of the rules and materials, I was enlightened to the mechanics of kanban in the computer world.

This kanban game was created by Christina Skaskiw. 
In this game, 5 simple steps emulate the basics of software development:

Planning, Analysis, Development, Test and Deployment.

The goal is to complete "stories" which have a predetermined work value for each step.

In each step, the sum of several rolled dice is deducted from the value in the step on a card. If you roll a 7, and the story card has a 12 in Development (as above), then you deduct 7 from 12. And 5 units of work are left before it can progress to the next step. A simple, yet elegant system to simulate work flow.

Initially there are no WIP limits for each step, so the planner is pushing cards into the system. As the game progresses, you add WIP limits and see the effect. During the game, players can adjust the limits in each step to improve throughput.

Each Story has to be completed in 4 rounds. If your WIP limits are too high, more stories will be worked on, but they will travel slower. If a story is completed late, there's penalties! 50% is deducted from the business value for the first late round, 75% if two rounds late, and no business value is awarded if completed more than two rounds late.

I like the use of the story cards with different values to distinguish between more difficult jobs and easier ones. As well, the use of dice adds some uncertainty, just like in real life. Although I haven't played the game, I found the rules easy to follow.

Now I know how kanban works in software development! I'm sure kanban can be used in this way for other processes, including job shop scenarios.

I reached out to Christina Skaskiw to see if the game was still available and she sent me a .zip file with all the files required to run the game. Thank-you Christina for making this freely available!

Click here to access the files:

This game has been added to my growing list of Lean games.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Can You Improve Morale with Team Building Games?

Yes, I know. Team building games aren't Lean games. But while they might not demonstrate Lean concepts, team building games can be useful to motivate your Lean group and break the ice.

Being a technical kind of guy, I'm not the biggest fan of team building games. Generally they focus on soft skills like communication and bonding.

And usually they're pretty lame.

Often management is looking for a quick fix to address morale problems. But if morale is poor, a game or two won't improve the situation. Usually there's something deeper simmering.

In a recent episode of Parks and Recreation, the staff go camping as a team building exercise and ostensibly to generate a "next big idea". Naturally, the employees pack their bags full of pessimism and television hilarity ensues.

A team building activity won't fix a pervasive negative attitude. 

All that being said, if you have an energized team, working on Lean problems together, there's nothing wrong with breaking up the session with a little team building to get everyone to stretch their legs and minds.

Or you could all just stand around. 

I'll quickly describe two simple team building games outlined in more detail on  (link no longer available).
Another description of Crossing the Line can be found here.

Game 1: Crossing the Line

In this simple game two people stand in two halves of a circle, with a line in between. Each person has to convince the other to cross the line to their half of the circle, without being physical. The facilitator referees, while the rest of the group adds encouragement. The idea is that they would negotiate to reach some kind of compromise.

The game seems interesting, but I think it has the potential to cause some hurt feelings, if some strong willed people get involved. The facilitator is going to make or break this game. At least it's fast.

Game 2: Customer Connection

In the second game groups have to work together to get a marble to flow along different sizes of PVC pipe without touching them or joining the pipe together. Naturally, there's a certain amount of planning, strategy, trial and error and working together.

Seems better for larger groups, or maybe teams of groups, but requires a bit of prep work. As well, there's more relevance for Lean, since you're working with the "flow" of the marble. I know, it's a stretch.

When any game, be sure to have a decent debrief, with some reflection on how it's relevant to your business. Otherwise, you might as well go and play Xbox.

These games have been added to my huge list of free Lean games.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Simple Paper Airplane Lean Game with Folding Instructions

The best games are those that don't require any special materials. Of course, Lego bricks will make a certified geek like me drool with anticipation, but when you're on a budget, simple office supplies will do the trick.

Paper airplanes are a product that most people are familiar with, and this game puts the pull vs push doctrine into your paper airplane factory.

Pete Abilla at has posted his version of the popular Paper Airplane Lean game. Previously, we've seen a paper airplane game in action in a video series showing push vs pull. But no printed instructions were available.


To the timely rescue comes this description of the paper airplane Lean game, showing detailed folding instructions. I've folded plenty of paper airplanes in my time, but which style is best for a Lean game?

The paper folding work for a sleek, pointy airplane has been split up between 4 workers. I haven't tried the simulation myself, but it appears that there's a bottleneck in the process. Bottlenecks are useful in these games, to ensure that inventory builds up, demonstrating the drawback of a traditional push process.

In the first round, a push system is modeled, with each worker "encouraged" to make as many as possible, with a carrot on a stick.

The instructor sets up buffers between each station in the second round, implementing a simple pull system. Do not create, unless your downstream buffer is empty!

Plenty of talking points are included in the blog post, perfect to get your discussion going.

Check out the full details of the Lean paper airplane game at

This game has been added to my growing list of free Lean games and simulations.